Southwark Playhouse, London – until 18 February 2017
At roughly three hours long, this charming Burt Bacharach musical is in definite need of some editing but is warm hearted and loveably goofy entertainment. Based on the classic Billy Wilder film The Apartment and featuring the instantly recognisable music of Burt Bacharach and lyrics by Hal David, Bronagh Lagan’s production of Promises, Promises is a delightful and loveable show.
The musical follows Chuck Baxter who seems to be unlucky in his career and love life – until one day he allows his co-workers to borrow his apartment to conduct their extra-marital affairs, leading to all kinds of rewards in return. But things get complicated when he realises his boss is having an affair with the object of his affections.
It is a pretty straight forward story, making it easy for the audience to sit back and enjoy the musical, with its witty sense of humour, two sharp leads in the shape of Gabriel Vick and Daisy Maywood and of course the music provided by Burt Bacharach.
Once again championing a musical that is rarely seen on stage, the Southwark Playhouse is perhaps an awkward sized space to present it in, with some of the scene changes seemingly clunky and the very restricted choreography. But the intimacy of the space also allows the audience to be drawn into the action as much as possible.
But Lagan’s production really sparkles thanks to its two leading roles. Gabriel Vick’s Chuck has a sparkle, joy and general mannerisms that bring to mind Jack Lemmon – particularly during his little asides to the audience that are delightful. His delivery and slight element of awkwardness in talking to Fran makes him even more relatable for audiences.
Meanwhile, Daisy Maywood as Fran has a most definite Shirley Maclaine vibe in looks and personality, sensible and grounded for the most part but with a hint of vulnerability in terms of her feelings for Sheldrake that anyone can relate to when their love isn’t entirely returned. Maywood’s vocals during ‘A House is Not a Home’ are so heart-wrenchingly good, that it was a real disappointment not to hear how she would have handled ‘I Say a Little Prayer’.
There is no denying that this is a long musical that could do with a few edits – particularly in terms of the songs used. Songs such as ‘Turkey Lurkey Time’ and ‘She Likes Basketball’ don’t really help to push the story forward, whereas the cut ‘Say a Little Prayer’ is worthy for inclusion, appropriate in putting Fran’s feelings for Sheldrake across.
But, Promises Promises is a treat to watch and is a throwback to the classic comedies of Hollywood of the 1950’s and 1960’s despite the fact that some might find it slightly dated in attitude. With plenty of heart and two characters who you really root for, Promises Promises is a sparkling production.